Energy R&D:

Conservation Planning and Management Should Be Strengthened

RCED-90-195: Published: Jul 30, 1990. Publicly Released: Aug 10, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) energy conservation research and development (R&D) program, focusing on planning and management improvements that would increase program effectiveness.

GAO found that: (1) energy conservation R&D funding and staff declined substantially in 1980, reflecting the administration's view that conservation research should be conducted primarily by the private sector; (2) the 1991 budget request reflects a 9-percent funding reduction; (3) the DOE multi-year conservation R&D plan did not provide detailed information on proposed individual projects and milestones; (4) DOE has not steadily promoted technology transfer activities that effectively promote the commercialization of R&D efforts; (5) independent peer reviews of R&D activities could help ensure the continuing relevance of ongoing research activities and sharpen management decisionmaking; and (6) DOE may inadvertently overlook some relevant critical review recommendations or fail to implement them in a timely manner.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require the publication and distribution of the plan internally and externally so that DOE continues to solicit and receive feedback on the plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE distributed its 5-year plan internally for comment at HQS, its field offices, and laboratories. The Office of Conservation reported that it plans to extend formal review of the 5-year plan to key sector interests and state energy organizations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require that the conservation R&D planning process develop program plans at varying funding levels to provide a link to and support for budgeting needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The conservation R&D plans for FY 1993 included the development of alternative budgets.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require that the conservation R&D planning process include milestones that systematically emphasize technology transfer activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE is including technology transfer milestones for conservation R&D in its annual operating plans and multi-year plans.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require that the conservation R&D planning process use a uniform project prioritization methodology to permit the comparison of the costs and benefits of its proposed activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Conservation developed a judgmental project prioritization methodology comparing the benefits and risks of its current and proposed activities for the fiscal year 1993 DOE budget and multi-year plan. The Office can not yet use a quantitatively-based methodology because of data and modelling limitations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require that the conservation R&D planning process include a systematic review of individual projects by top Office of Conservation management to help ensure that the portfolio reflects current needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has indicated its intent to continue with current R&D review processes that it describes as being systematic. However, the Office of Conservation does not identify individual projects nor are the individual projects systematically reviewed by DOE Office of Conservation management.

    Recommendation: To enhance the usefulness and credibility of the conservation R&D multi-year plan, the Secretary of Energy should require that detailed program and project information be incorporated in the plan, including objectives and milestones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Conservation has improved its R&D multi-year plan, but planning is still focused around program elements. The multi-year plan does not include an identification of the individual projects comprising the program elements. Compared to other R&D plans that identify programs and projects, such as the Gas Research Institute's plan, the DOE conservation plan is less useful and credible.

    Recommendation: To ensure that conservation R&D programs continue to receive independent reviews under the revised organizational structure of the Office of Conservation and Renewable Energy, the Secretary of Energy should require the cognizant deputy assistant secretaries to implement independent peer reviews annually and to examine peer review recommendations as part of the Office's multi-year R&D planning process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Conservation and Renewable Energy Office of Planning and Assessment issued evaluation guidance in January 1992 that includes the use of peer reviews. However, independent peer reviews are not mandatory and the GAO report concluded that a mandatory program was important to ensure such reviews are conducted.

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